A year or so ago, my parents and I visited a chain bookstore in Vancouver, trying to find a good book for my four year old nephew. I was amused and annoyed to see how blatant kids’ gender stereotyping was in the publishing world. I mean, do we really need Bible Stories for Boys and Bible Stories for Girls, done up in blue and pink covers, respectively?
Katy Guest writes about The Independent UK’s new policy of no longer reviewing books aimed solely at girls or solely at boys. She points out that while such books do the pernicious work of reinforcing outdated, limiting gender roles,
splitting children’s books strictly along gender lines is not even good publishing. Just like other successful children’s books, The Hunger Games was not aimed at girls or boys; like JK Rowling, Roald Dahl, Robert Muchamore and others, Collins just wrote great stories, and readers bought them in their millions. Now, Dahl’s Matilda is published with a pink cover, and I have heard one bookseller report seeing a mother snatching a copy from her small son’s hands saying “That’s for girls” as she replaced it on the shelf.
You see, it is not just girls’ ambitions that are being frustrated by the limiting effects of “books for girls”, in which girls’ roles are all passive, domestic and in front of a mirror. Rebecca Davies, who writes the children’s books blog at Independent.co.uk, tells me that she is equally sick of receiving “books which have been commissioned solely for the purpose of ‘getting boys reading’ [and which have] all-male characters and thin, action-based plots.” What we are doing by pigeon-holing children is badly letting them down. And books, above all things, should be available to any child who is interested in them.
Happily, as the literary editor of The Independent on Sunday, there is something that I can do about this. So I promise now that the newspaper and this website will not be reviewing any book which is explicitly aimed at just girls, or just boys. Nor will The Independent’s books section. And nor will the children’s books blog at Independent.co.uk. Any Girls’ Book of Boring Princesses that crosses my desk will go straight into the recycling pile along with every Great Big Book of Snot for Boys. If you are a publisher with enough faith in your new book that you think it will appeal to all children, we’ll be very happy to hear from you. But the next Harry Potter or Katniss Everdeen will not come in glittery pink covers. So we’d thank you not to send us such books at all.